Thursday, January 27, 2011

More than a Tree?

Heavy, wet snow finally took some limbs I couldn't reach with the telescoping pruning saw late last year. Somehow, the kids simple swing is still holding on. When was the last time a child sat on it? I don't know, but we've told them not to because of the weak limb.

The husband of the former owner of the house died pruning this tree, we were told by a sentimental neighbor. At one point, the tree was so unruly that it was topped, and has long since resumed its posture. Standing between the front of our house and the western horizon, it is the house's cooling shade from spring through autumn---and morning shade for our neighbors across the street. Of course, every fall it swamps the lawn with shed leaves and branches that we are still cleaning up in spring. Is it odd that we don't think about that while we're burning the fallen limbs in the fire pit in the fall. Since nothing grows beneath it, there's no lawn to maintain; but, the rains rolling through erode the hill on which the house sits. Perhaps the roots hold together what remains, but perhaps someday they'll encroach upon the pipes and foundation. Any impulsive thoughts to remove the tree are easily countered by the expense and homeowner association paperwork process that have to be readied beforehand.

This is a perfectly precarious balance: with a determined thought in either direction, this tree stands or falls with all of the pros and cons that result; but absent a compelling desire, the consequences either way are clear.

Such a big deal, this old tree, so much more than the its limbs are attached to it by so many people, weighing it down... So many different things beside its roots are keeping it standing, perfectly balanced, ready to fall.

What isn't like this?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chasing Results

I don't remember exactly what it was like watching my kids discover their fingers and toes--beyond sucking thumbs, seeing the hands and somehow realizing that they control them, and seeing the feet as something foreign then grabbing them for a taste.. Not long afterward, babies reach out and grab things that are not the babies themselves. Later, crying brings Mommy to the rescue and squealing makes Daddy have a funny face. And so it goes... Off in that way, maybe they will reminisce about their own kids doing the same.

Is there ultimately anything that is not like this, responding to what we sense or think? If there is, can you tell me what it is without it being in response to my question?

So I heard a generous teacher say that he is bothered by a selfish student. The student takes, takes, takes while the teacher gives, gives, gives. Whenever he looks for his own understanding, the teacher never sees its reflection. What is happening here? What is his complaint? What is my response?

Perhaps someday he will "evolve" and consider the long view. Who knows how a student may someday be affected by the teacher? Perhaps eventually, unnoticed, the student will develop the right view. But doing this today so that someday he might do that? Is this any different?

Is there no escape?

I don't know what he may have told Jos├ęphine about reason for his every breath, but I once heard that each of us today has likely inhaled air that Napoleon had exhaled. I can't say for certain, but I doubt he mentioned me.

Can you break that feedback loop? Would it be wrong to try because I asked?

What if you succeeded? Perhaps then you could tell me the meaning underlying these words:

If there's a reason I breathe, I don't know what it is.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Somedays, It's Good to Not Have a Critical Job

Main roads are said to be clear. Ours? Not so much. Just a sheet of ice. There's a neighbor with a garden hoe chipping away at her driveway there...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fill in the Blanks -- Cause & Effect, Part 2

Long after the events have passed, I look back and ask, "What was the meaning?"

Closer to the time of the story, I cast myself as the hero. Hardships endured were sacrifices for a greater good; rewards earned were trophies justifying my effort. The people around me who agreed were friends and brought closer; the people who did not were adversaries and distanced. What fell away from me in my pursuit did not belong; what came to me and stayed with me did.

Later, in a new situation, a cast of people just like this are potentially my adversaries. Looking back again, I ask, "What was the meaning?" This time I see that I was an ass. Inconsiderate, unyielding, there was only my way. What more we all could have created together if only I had found a way to engender some cooperation. Look how I had impacted the lives of others negatively in my selfish pursuit and in gratifying my ego...

Two views of one story: which is the better?

There are two different minds shown reflected in one single story from the past. Given the circumstances, the mind works to complete the picture, to fill in the blanks, to interpret, to judge, to assign meaning. Is it any different than considering a poem twice, once while happy, once while saddened?

How is any moment different than this?

What meaning can any story have absent our own contribution? Can you see your mind contributing? Can you distinguish between what your mind adds and what is actually there?

The very next thought or the very next action may be rooted in your last state of mind. So, how much of it is "real"?

Friday, January 14, 2011

What Happened Last Week?

Have to say, I hardly know. The pace of things is such that it feels like a single thought rises and falls like a breath over the course of a week; an action, at least a month; a chain of events, seasons; ...  I catch occasional glimpses of people zipping back and forth as if on fire while I'm watching mountains at war.

I don't know if it's a matter of growing old, seeing from a different perspective, or both. Either way, somewhere in there I blinked: my daughter turns 14 on Monday.

Sometime last week I had a scotch. Maybe this is the start of a hangover :-)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cause & Effect

Once upon a time, I was completely enthralled with a project I was on. It was an underdog, a bete noire--what value could there possibly be in the work? But we knew the importance would be proved. There were long hours away from family as I tended to the job at all hours, doing what no one else could appreciate. There were battles of sorts as I raged against the machine to bring the pieces together, to keep the wolves at bay, and to do all of those other metaphorical things...

... and in the end, it was true: It did pay off.

... and there was some mild gratification that a few people's noses were rubbed in the triumph.

... but most of all, we went to incredible lengths looking for what we knew was there as people tried to stop us, and against the odds we found it.

... and we twisted real human lives and careers into pretzels along the way---including my own.

Everybody loves a story like that, no? Well, except for that last part, maybe. And now it's just a nondescript blip on my resume and an occasional "war story" brought out after the first round or two of whiskey. What was the aftermath? That isn't really discussed to much, ether because we move on to someone else's example or the whiskey eventually overtakes the storytelling.

Or maybe it's because it's just too depressing...

Having completed the "I was right!" dance, the effort validated and finally understood, we moved to transition the effort from the proof-of-concept on to the pros. After all, I've done my part and there are certainly more dragons to be slain. Somehow, though, it just wasn't happening. There was still far more of my push than their pull---there was some uncomfortable balance struck that relied on so much extra effort. "I had to do their job too?" I thought. Maybe they thought I was just a pain in the ass and naturally resisted. Regardless, all of the tensions were in balance in this backward tug-of-war and we inched toward success.

It was ridiculous.

Fine, I thought---I'll just let go of the rope and move along. Let them play phone and email tag with me for a change! The project's value is understood, and if it breaks down, surely someone will notice---and then they'll be forced to take the effort seriously...

... Right?

The system broke down. No one noticed. No one cared.

When I was there to push, everybody at the other end was happy with what came out the other side, yes---that is true. But no one missed it when it was gone.

And that was sad... not just the reality of it all, but that I saw that coming.

But my time was up. It really was time to move on.

There are lots of points for personal investigation here, so let's pause and "digest for a while," as my son likes to say.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Twitter Retreat, Part 2

There's an important aspect of stopping one activity or starting another that should be considered: If it's an escape from something, that something will continue to haunt you. You believe things are different, but you'll see this reflection again---like turning away from one funhouse mirror and pointing yourself toward another. This is the karmic cycle.

With practice, in an environment such as Twitter it is possible to remove the attachment to form within communications. It's enough to consider, for example, that a sexy female avatar photo and accompanying language could be the proverbial old perverted guy behind the keyboard to give a fellow pause. For the people who've come to play within such a fantasy, enjoy---as a social tool, it's a stage for any actor and it's valuable in so many ways. As a Zen practice, maintaining the clarity to see that things are not necessarily as they seem, but are quite possibly what you want to see or expect to see given the appearances instead is key---seeing your own mind at work responding.

After all, you are shown pictures and words---not real people, right?

So what happens when you turn away from the screen and turn toward the people around you---family, friends, coworkers, strangers?

Do you really believe things have changed?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ZenStorm, R.I.P.

When I opened my Zen practice to the Internet, I adopted the moniker "ZenStorm" for use on Twitter. I would speculate that in over an estimated 30-thousand posts (around 15-thousand in the currant instantiation, might as well assume there were as many in the previous ones), I've encountered no more than ten with what we might call "koan sense," which is at the heart of my personal practice. I've met maybe ten people who occasionally chat with me. There may be overlap in the lists, and there's no telling if all of the personalities are distinct--except perhaps for the one person whom I've met as a result.

While I do look for connections and while I do enjoy the koan practice, ultimately that's not why I'm drawn to using the service. With increased Zen practice, I've come to see fairly clearly that I am--for the most part--ultimately interacting with myself. The active streams I've added to my follow queue and hold for any length of time must ultimately resonate with me. If one is informative, there's a topic of interest to me. If one presents itself as a student, I may be drawn to watch progress. If one presents as a teacher, I may be drawn to challenge. If one presents art such as poetry, I may be drawn to enjoy the imagery. Even if one irritates me, it's there for a reason--even if it is not immediately consciously understood.

In this way, watching the streams is an opportunity to watch my own mind, seeing where I am instinctually drawn or repulsed, watching my mind fill in the missing details, watching how I could be led if I am not aware. Even when I am drawn to watching your mind within the stream, it is a most critical moment: not losing sight that I am watching my own mind watching yours.

But here's the thing: Introspection in itself can be as addictive as any other activity. What to do, particularly when I am looking for new connections and Twitter is a convenient social outlet?

If you meet the Buddha, kill him.

ZenStorm has two ingredients: What I present and what you see. Perhaps it is more though: what I continue to present and what you expect to see. Having been listed so many times in categories surrounding Buddhism, Zen, and people who love to spend days announcing how spiritual they are, I'm swamped in a circle that is fundamentally uninteresting to me. Ultimately, I created this though; how can I be free of it? How can you be free of it? Worrying about that detail, considering taking little steps from here in this direction or that direction, wondering about the effects of change: these only preserve the ZenStorm form. This creates a ZenStorm idol.

This is

Standing on top of a 100-foot pole, being told to take a step.

I'll offer no answer to this koan here; instead, I'll take advantage of the kol che retreat season and let ZenStorm rest. Perhaps without the investment of so much time in this direction, the opportunities for the types of conversations I would actually prefer will have an opportunity to appear.


We follow the path of least resistance, even when it is insurmountable, even when there are easier paths around or through. Sometimes the most difficult and most important thing is to stop and see this.

On retreat, perhaps at first you see what you are doing: I am meditating long hours; I am practicing with the koans; I am doing something different. Perhaps next you notice what you are not doing: I am not posting all of the time; I am not slacking off there; I am not scratching that itch; I am not following my habits. At first, maybe there is "I have left" and later there is "I have returned."

Perhaps finally, though, in spite of all of the thinking and doing, in spite of all of the not thinking or not doing, the difficult path was a round trip in which you never left home at all.

How could you?